Resolutions, Priorities, and Expectations
Girdwood Chapel Sermon, 1 January 2017
Resolutions, Priorities, and Expectations
Revelation 21: 1-6a
Matthew 25: 31-46
Ecclesiastes 3: 1-13
My list of resolutions for 2017 was pretty easy to put together. I mean, sometimes you have to face the facts during thorough and honest self-assessment, that there is a possibility that there are areas to be improved on. I don’t mind sharing my list of resolutions with you all, I figure once you all know, you will call me on it and Alicia won’t feel like the only one who keeps me in check.
So here are a few of my resolutions:
Eat Less, Exercise More
Stick to the budget
Spend more quality time with the family (no phone allowed)
Learn how to use our new camera
Be a better husband, father, pastor, friend, son, brother, and all-around person.
See. Piece of cake. 2017 is sure to be a banner year if I am able to accomplish just the resolutions I have mentioned here. So, roll out the red carpet and strike up the band I am ready to enter 2017 in style. Oh, wait! Wait just a minute! I forgot something. I need to add something to the top of the list. I can’t believe I forgot to include it! Look at where we are...if, I were to have forgotten this, than you all would not know what to think about me, I am sure.
So, let’s add to Number 1, shall we? Number 1 is now going to be, “Learn how to ski”.
What? Were you expecting something different?
A New Year and A New World
Resolutions are tricky things. Many people make them at the start of every new year, with the hopes of making some changes in their lives that will make them happier about themselves. Some people don’t make them because they know they will simply not keep them. But for those who do state the change for the new year, the intent is to possibly change an irksome habit, or maybe even learn something new and exciting about themselves. The New Year marks a chance to reinvent ourselves in some way and to set the standards of how that reinvention will take place. By accomplishing each of the resolutions I identified, I think, I would become a better person. I mean, that is actually the criteria for number 5, is it not? “To be better…”
Did you find it odd that today, the first Sunday after Christmas, our first reading was from the book of Revelation? Most of us when we see the title of the book show up in our reading outline automatically turn to the events of the end of the world and, depending on your church upbringing, the words of fire and brimstone spoken from the preachers of our past. How then, does such a book with such imagery and visceral reaction find itself opened and recited during a season of peace, love, hope, and joy? It is because Christ’s birth marked the New Year and these words from Revelation are God’s resolutions.
In this New Year, sins are forgiven and death is conquered. The separation from God is no longer to be for, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind.” This is true in the context of the Holy Spirit, but in this New Beginning, we should expect it to be true also in the physical state. The promise of this New Year, this New Life, this New Beginning, is that God will come back to be with us in this world. Jesus will rule not from a cross but from a throne and life as we know it, will be changed forever. God’s resolutions are to make a world without mourning, crying, or pain. This is a promise from God made by the throne of Christ. The words are given to us by the One who was there at the beginning and who will be here at the end. The Alpha and the Omega.
What are we to do?
It would seem that God’s resolutions are mighty in their results. Perhaps a little more effect than my ability to ski or to use a camera. But, this does not mean my resolutions are pointless, perhaps they need some tweaking, but resolutions in of themselves are not so bad. The words from Revelation tell us of what is to come. The whole purpose of the baby in the manger was to allow us access to the New World, a return to Eden if you will, in which harmony is found on all the earth for God rules not out of fear but out of righteousness. We have no idea when that day could come. Maybe today, maybe tomorrow, maybe in our children’s children’s lifetime. But, we have been left with some specific instructions on how to find ourselves prepared and ready for our Savior’s return.
In the book of Matthew, the scene of Christ’s triumphant returned are spelled out. Christ sits on his mighty throne and he separates all of the people of earth into two sides. Just as a shepherd separates goats from sheep, Christ will separate people on earth. The criteria for separation is simple. Those who gave nourishment, clothes, care, and time to Christ will be on the right. Those who didn’t will be on the left. The ones on the right will live with Christ in the New World and the ones who didn’t will receive punishment, eternal punishment.
It is our responsibility. It should be our priority to look for Christ in our lives.
Putting it together
The baby in the manger was our call to salvation. It was our sign that God had been separated from us for far too long and that God had acted to end that distance, that void in God’s existence and in our own. As we have discussed time after time over the last few weeks, God, acting incredibly humbly, took all of the omnipotence and omniscience of God’s existence and cast it aside to take the form of a frail and vulnerable infant. Despite the ability and the temptation to use these Godly powers while on earth, Jesus chose to live fully and completely as a human, giving himself in service to all those around Him.
That is the theme of our reading from Matthew today. How should we act now in this period between the cross and the New Creation? We should act as Jesus taught us. We should put others first. We should seek out Jesus in every aspect of our lives and once we find Him we should make sure He is completely comfortable and feels welcome. Then we should give Him a hug and move on, looking for Him in other places.
There is a catch to this though. Jesus is very seldom in the places where it is comfortable for us to look. A prison in 90 AD is not the stainless steel, three meal a day, medical care provided, television and internet available place we think of today. No, the ones in prison were cast aside from civil life and little care was afforded to them as they awaited trial or were condemned to death. If they made it to trial great! If they died in the horrid conditions of filth and stench prior to the trial, than that was okay too. The prison was the furthest place a first century person would care to have found themselves. But, that is where Jesus said He was and where Jesus says He still is.
God, found us and saved us through a child, born in the silence of the world amongst animals and before shepherds. His entry into the world was not filled with fanfare or multitudes turning out for a ticker tape parade. It was a silent night, which concluded with a woman, a child, and a man sneaking off to a foreign land for protection. We so often take the story from the birth to the cross and forget the man who was present in between. Jesus grew from childhood and developed into a man, a teacher, a rabbi, with specific traits and specific messages. He broke the norms of the Jewish tradition to show a different way of life. He reached out for those who were sick, destitute, and broken. He supped with those who swindled, lied, and cheated. Through it all he kept Himself, as sinless and as righteous.
Although my resolutions seem important to me. Although they seem like they are good steps into making me a better person. I should weigh them very heavily against one thing. Jesus, showed us the way we should live our lives. That was part of His mission to walk among us, to show us how to live in full connection with the Spirit of God. We have been told what the new creation will be like and we have been given the criteria which will decide whether or not we will be able to experience this New World at the right hand of Christ.
God doesn’t care if I know how to ski or surf or roller skate. God delights in my happiness as I participate in those things. But when I take the skis off, put the surfboard up, and tuck the laces in the skates, God is looking to see what I do next. Am I willing to make myself uncomfortable to make someone else’s life better. Am I willing to share the gospel with a perfect stranger. Am I willing to forego something I want to do, so I can spend time in a cause that helps others. Am I able in every situation to pause and look for Christ among us. Then upon finding Him, am I able to serve without complaint and without recognition.
Maybe we can prioritize our resolutions with one simple prayer:
God, I know you are among us, humble me so I may see you, move me so I may serve you. In all things let me show glory to Your name.